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Ministers set country’s infrastructure priorities

Ministers this week approved 10 sites as locations for the UK’s next generation of nuclear power stations.

The sites are endorsed in new National Policy Statements (NPSs) that will form the basis of government energy policy.

Statements on nuclear power, fossil fuels, electricity networks, renewable power, gas networks and ports were published on Monday. They were accompanied by an overarching energy NPS.

The NPSs will inform the work of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), which will take over planning decisions for major infrastructure projects in March (see box). All but one of the sites put forward by potential developers as possible nuclear power station locations have been given approval by the government (see map).

The exception was a new site at Dungeness which was considered to pose too much of a risk to the surrounding environment, as well as being too susceptible to flooding.

“To meet our low carbon energy challenge we will need significantly more generating capacity in the longer term.”

Energy minister Ed Miliband

Three additional sites have been proposed − at Kingsnorth in Kent, Druridge Bay in Northumberland and Owston Ferry near Scunthorpe. But all three are said to have problems and will not be considered until 2025 at the earliest.

New nuclear will form the backbone of the government’s transition to a low carbon economy.

Energy minister Ed Miliband said nuclear power “is a proven, reliable source of low carbon energy: an important baseload in the system. “To meet our low carbon energy challenge, and due to the intermittency of wind, we will need significantly more generating capacity in the longer term,” he said. “Over the next 15 years one third of that future generating capacity must be consented and built. Given this challenge, the imperative of reform in the planning system is clear.”

Miliband said the difficulties faced in constructing European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) plants at Flamanville in northern France and Olkiluoto in Finland would help developers in the UK, as technical problems there could ironed out before construction begins here.

Defining moment

The IPC has already indicated that French energy giant EDF intends to submit applications for sites at Hinkley Point and Sizewell. It intends to build two reactors at each site and to submit its first IPC application next summer.

“This is a defining moment on the road to a low carbon Britain, which has been reached because of the wide consensus of support for new nuclear that exists, including between industry, regulators, academics, scientists and politicians,” said EDF chief executive Vincent de Rivaz.

He cited research by regulator Ofgem that suggested that £200bn had to be invested in UK energy infrastructure in the coming years.

“As a result of the contracts we have placed so far with 40 UK companies for preparatory work, there are 400 people in the UK supply chain already working on our new build project,” said de Rivaz.

An RWE/Eon consortium, dubbed Horizon Nuclear Energy, plans new stations at Wylfa on Anglesey and Oldbury-on-Severn in South Gloucestershire. And a GDF Suez SA/Iberdrola/Scottish and Southern joint venture plans new plants at Sellafield.

National Policy statements published

An infrastructure boom edged closer this week as the government released for consultation the first six of its National Policy Statements (NPSs), or frameworks for building major infrastructure.

Statements on nuclear power, fossil fuels, electricity networks, renewable power, gas networks, ports and an overarching energy NPS were published on Monday.

Further statements will follow in 2010. The statements will inform the work of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), which will take over planning decisions for large infrastructure.

The government says the IPC will streamline between eight and 10 parallel processes into a unified system, reducing decision making to a maximum of one year − nine months for hearings and three months for decision making, saving money for applicants and cutting bureaucracy in the process.

However, the overall time from concept to approval or rejection will take longer than a year as applicants must “fully” consult before submitting applications to the IPC.

All NPSs will now be subject to public and parliamentary scrutiny, which could include debates and parliamentary committee hearings but should be officially approved or “designated” before the end of 2010.

This week’s NPSs

  • Overarching energy designated in 2010
  • Nuclear power designated in 2010
  • Fossil fuels designated in 2010
  • Electricity networks designated in 2010
  • Renewables designated in 2010
  • Gas networks, designated in 2010
  • Ports designated in 2010

Further NPSs

  • Airports published by 2010, designated in 2010
  • National Networks published 2010, designated in 2011
  • Wastewater published 2010, designated in 2011
  • Hazardous waste published 2010, designated in 2012
  • Water supply published 2011, designated in 2012

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